French Jews: Attack highlights anti-Semitism fears

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An attack on a French couple is reviving worries about anti-Semitic sentiment in France amid a rising number of incidents targeting Jews, especially during the Gaza war earlier this year.

Assailants this week forced their way into an apartment in the Paris suburb of Creteil, tied up a young man and woman, demanded money and raped the woman, according to authorities.

France has western Europe's largest Jewish community, which is concerned about a rise in Islamic extremism and the growing political weight of the far right. The French president said the attack harmed the nation's values, and the head of France's main Jewish organization pleaded for an aggressive government effort to stop what he called a "cancer" spreading through society.

In the Creteil attack, two suspects were given preliminary charges Wednesday night of religion-motivated violence, armed robbery, rape, sequestration and extortion, according to the Service for the Protection of the Jewish Community in France. French media reported that a third suspect was later charged, apparently as an accomplice.

The young man, whom authorities have not identified, told France-Info radio that the attackers "apparently thought that given that my family is Jewish, Jews have money." He said the assailants repeatedly asked where the family money stash was kept and talked about attacking Jews.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in France has grown 91 percent this year compared to last year, said Roger Cukierman, head of France's leading Jewish organization, CRIF.

Incidents, including graffiti on gravestones and violent assaults, spiked around the Gaza war over the summer, as has happened during periods of conflict in the Mideast in the past. Militants from the Jewish Defense League were also involved in violence against pro-Palestinian protesters in France.

"Jews have lived in France for 2,000 years, and have had citizenship since the Revolution. ... Now we can't move about in the subway wearing a kippa," or Jewish skullcap, he told The Associated Press. Rising anti-Semitism "is a cancer not only for Jews, but for all of France."

French President Francois Hollande on Thursday stressed the need to fight anti-Semitism.

"A family in a city in France was attacked because it is Jewish," Hollande said at the Elysee Palace. "When such dramas occur, such tragedies, it is not simply the family that is wounded, attacked. It is the greatness of France that finds itself wounded, damaged."

The attack in Creteil struck a particular chord among France's Jewish community because it revived chilling memories of a brutal killing in 2006. A gang targeted a young Jewish man, Ilan Halimi, held him captive for three weeks and tortured him, then left him naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks near railroad tracks south of Paris. He died on the way to the hospital.

Meanwhile, Islamic extremists have repeatedly called for attacks on France, and the Jewish community fears it could be a prime target.

Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche, who fought in Syria, is accused of killing four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May. Frenchman Mohamed Merah killed three children at a Jewish school, a rabbi and three paratroopers in a rampage in southern France 2012.